Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Origins of the Turkish Cypriots

As it is known, Turkmen tribes established the Ottoman Empire. As it arose as a third power between Eastern and Western cultures, the necessity of founding a progressive order also arose. While the Ottoman administrators demonstrated the need to increase tax incomes and agricultural production, the Turkmen tribes of Anatolia and Syria protested against settlement plans as they were adjusted to a nomadic lifestyle.

The region of Transoxiana (Maveraünnehir), the Turkmen
place of origin before migrating to Anatolia
This conflict between rulers and tribes was typical of the Ottoman Empire until the year 1856. Evidently, this conflict fuelled many of the themes found in the folkloric works of great Turkmen literates such as Karacaoğlan, Dadaloğlu, Pir Sultan Abdal and Dede Korkut and this remained seemingly unchanged ever since their days in Transoxiana (Maveraünnehir) . As a result of their refusal to conform, Turkmens lived closed-off from mainstream society in the mountains for many centuries. This allowed them to preserve their nomadic lifestyle and traditions, particularly in folkloric beliefs, poetry and music.

It could be said that this conflict represented a struggle between two worlds; the first being the nomadic way of being free to live as one pleases, the second being the inevitable conditions required in building a civilisation. On one hand, therefore, the Ottoman Empire can be accused of infringing upon human rights, but on the other hand it would have been impossible for any kind of orderly civilisation to arise out of nomadic confederates, nor could they have been expected survive forever. However, this struggle did linger on for centuries (and there are still some nomadic Turkmen tribes in the Toros mountains today), but in 1856 the Ottomans formed an army specifically tasked to settle Turkmen nomadic tribes by force. This settlement policy, called Şenlendirme, distributed newly acquired lands to specifically to Turkmen tribes.

The 'Ferman' document issued by Sultan Selim II
ordering the settlement of Turkmens to Cyprus
After the conquest of Cyprus in 1571, in accordance with this settlement policy, Turkmens were sent to the island in two waves. The first wave began in 1572 and continued until the end of the sixteenth century, the second began in 1699 and continued until 1745. A document dated on the 20th of September 1572 issued an order by Sultan Selim II to the governors of Anatolia, Karamania, Dulkadiria and Rum provinces to select citizens possessing a lack of fertile land, unregistered people and those known as ‘rebels’ (all three criteria befitting to nomadic Turkmens) to be sent to Cyprus. Additionally, ten percent of the industrial workforce was to accompany them.

Above all these provinces were originally Turkmen principalities, known as beyliks, which had only recently agreed to collaborate with the Ottoman Empire. Firstly, the Dulkadiria province was occupied by the Yüreğir and Kınık tribes, as well as some independent clans known as the Dulkadiria Ulusu. Furthermore, Karamania consisted of the Bozdoğan tribe. All of these were descendents of the Üçoklar branch of the Oğuz Turks. Descending from the Bozoklar branch, the inhabitants of the Rum province were from the Beğdili and Bayat tribes. As for the Anatolian province, it was commonly known by the words of the twelfth century traveler Ibn Batuta as Turkmen Yatağı, the ‘bed of Turkmens’.

As well as this first order, a further two orders written in 1576 and 1577 were found addressed to the governor of Bozok (modern day Yozgat) demanding the extradition of Turkmens suspected of supporting Iranian leader of the Kızılbaş Alevi sect Shah Ismail Saphevi. Another order from the same year was sent to the Bozdoğan tribe exiling the Ramazan family and their supporters to Cyprus as a punishment for rebellion. Notably, the Ramazan family were a branch of the Köseli clan and today there is still a family by the name of Köseli living in the settlement area. In another document, an order is sent to the governor of Hamiteli to exile the rebel Karahacı to Cyprus. Even today, in the area in which he was settled, when knocking on someone’s door at night, if one is asked Who’s there?”, it is tradition to say “Karahacı” to scare the hosts.

A family tree of Turkmen clans descending from Oğuz Khan (click to enlarge)

By the end of the sixteenth century, 8,000 families had been settled in Cyprus, short of the planned 12,000. It is clear that most of these families were Turkmens as a document found in the Ottoman Archives states that only “Turks and Muslims” could be settled in Cyprus (Turk of course referring to Turkmen nomads). Dr. Cengiz Orhunlu, author of the book Ottoman Settlement Policy, wrote that the Turkmens of Karamania were indeed settled to Cyprus by force. According to another author, Dr. Faruk Sümer, the ancestors of the Turkish Cypriots were the Turkmens of Çukurova. This was the first wave.

After the second Ottoman retreat from Vienna, it became clear to the Ottoman administrators that the empire was suffering due to a lack of tax income. In order to increase tax revenue and agricultural production, an order was issued in 1699 to settle all nomadic Turkmen tribes to Cyprus. Thus began the second wave of migration. Consequently, the Turkmen tribes rebelled against this decision and their protests continued up until 1856, but by 1745 many had already been forcibly settled in Cyprus. In this period, around 2,500 new families had been settled from the Beğdili, Bayat, Avşar, Kaçar and Bozdoğan tribes. As it is known the first three are from the Bozoklar branch and the fourth is from the Üçoklar branch of Oğuz Turks.

The second wave was completed as follows: From the Beğdili tribe the Şamlu/Dımışklı clan (otherwise known in Iran as the Şahseven, Hüdabendelü, Aynallu or Karagözlü). From the Avşar tribe the Bentoğlu and Köroğlu clans. From the Kaçar tribe the Kaçar Halil clan, from the Bozdoğan tribe the Karahacılı clan. From the Yüreğir branch of the Bayat tribe the Gediklü clan. From the Kayı tribe the Karakeçili clan.

Avşar tribe                                Bayat tribe                          Beğdili tribe   
Kayı tribe                                Kınık tribe                          Yüreğir tribe
In these two waves, around 50,000 Turkmens were settled on the island, mainly in the provinces of Mesaria and Mesoto, which were left unoccupied after the Latin exodus from Cyprus and due to their similarities with the landscapes of Cental Asia. Until the twentieth century, they occupied themselves with shepherding sheep and camel flocks, without taking much interest in agriculture. Just as their ancestors had done in Anatolia and Syria, the Turkmens of Cyprus rebelled against the Ottoman Empire on many occassions. This continued until recently when the trend of nationalism took over causing them to consider themselves as modern Turks. However, even today some Turkish Cypriots insist on maintaining a special identity seperate to that of the Turks of modern Turkey.

Perhaps it is fair to argue that neither of these viewpoints are particularly incorrect. Living on a small island in villages within close proximity of each other, as well as being isolated from the developments in the Ottoman Empire's mainland provided Turkish Cypriots the chance to preserve their old way of life in Anatolia and Syria. Until the onset of the age of nationalism, they maintained their nomadic lifestyle. In other words, whereas other communities gradually changed over time, due to their lack of integration with mainstream Ottoman society, the Turkish Cypriots experienced no change in their culture since their days in Chorasan and Maveraünnehir until they made a sudden jump to nationalism.

Turkish Cypriots have maintained their folkloric Turkmen traditions
Today, when discussing Turkish Cypriot identity, one of the first issues raised is the spoken dialect. The Turkish Cypriot dialect is very close to the dialect used in Dede Korkut stories from the twelfth century. Furthermore, Turkish Cypriots use many words from the old Turkmen language, much of which has been forgotten in the modern standard Istanbul Turkish. Sentence structure also strikes more similarity with the old Turkmen dialect than Istanbul Turkish. Therefore a Turkish Cypriot can easily understand the dialect of somebody from Azerbeijan, Kerkük, Merv, Aşkabat or any other Turkmen province. Many of the old folkloric beliefs are also alive in Turkish Cypriot culture today, such as the cult of ancestors, the cult of sacred trees, the cult of smoke, the cult of fire and water, so on and so forth. Any researcher can easily find links between these and old Shamanistic traditions. For example, the avoidance of cutting hair or nails at night, or even the belief in Albasması is still very popular amongst Turkish Cypriots. The tradition of celebrating Nevruz is still in practice in some villages today and is instead called “Mart Dokuzu”. In summary, the folkloric culture of Turkish Cypriots is almost identical to the folkloric culture of Turkmenistan. Another example can be found in wedding ceremony traditions, as well as the musical instrument, which up until very recently in Cyprus was referred to as the Dilli Düdük, whereas in Anatolia it is called the Kaval or the Ney.

by Dr. Nazim Beratli
Translated from Turkish by Ertan Karpazli
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